Tumakbo Tayo!

Posted: December 3, 2010 in Life in the Philippines
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Ask anyone who has been to the Philippines what the best thing is about this country, and the answer will always be the same: the people.  Yes, outside of Manila you’ll find the full array of tropical beauty: stunning beaches, lush jungles, green mountains, aquamarine waters, and picturesque volcanoes, but Filipino generosity, hospitality, and good humor outshine even the best scenery, as we were reminded during our recent work trip to the backwoods Samar region.

While the humidity and heat generally make running a rather miserable pastime here, in Samar running occasioned priceless memories.  We got the sense that in many of the hamlets we visited, we were likely the first white people they’d seen in person.  We were a general spectacle just walking down the street, but running, we were full-scale entertainment. Kids especially were entranced;  girls giggled, and boys called out, “hey, Joe,” (a holdover from the U.S. military days), plus cheerful attempts at American accents with “hi!” and the usual questions of “What’s your name?” “Where are you going?” “Where did you come from?” We responded in halting Tagalog, cause for endless, delighted laughter.  They pushed our names around their tongues, trying out the new syllables.  (Nate has become “Nathan,” because “Nate” is tough for Filipinos.  Most of the kids thought my name was “Dora” instead of Laura.)

On one particular run through a tiny fishing village on the island of Daram, we quickly came to the end of the town’s one road, and kept jogging down a crumbling paved path through the darkening jungle.  As we passed nipa huts and cinderblock shacks with corrugated metal rooftops, some of the kids started to run with us even though they were only wearing flip flops. “Tumakbo tayo! Let’s run!” we encouraged them, and the kids, who had now doubled in number, made no attempt to suppress their amazed laughter.

The pink light of twilight finally fading, we passed dozens of staring, amused faces.  Two men chuckled while sharing a cigarette leaning against the wall; a mother hung out the window of her tiny sari-sari store, waving as we ran by with a cloud of thirty or so children floating behind us; two little girls held hands, barely visible through the haze of smoke from chicken and fish and pork being roasted over cookfires everywhere.  Startled roosters crossed our path, and frantically squawked out of the way.  Somewhere below us, the town church rang its bell.

At the end of our run, we circled back to the small park at the town’s center.  I was lagging behind, learning the names of a dozen girls who were surrounding me, holding my arm affectionately and giggling whenever I spoke. When I arrived at the park, I desperately wished for a camera: there was my husband doing a hamstring stretch, leaning over one leg propped up on a cement platform, with 30+ little boys copying the stretch beside him.  While the night quickly took over the ocean sky above us, we taught at least fifty little kids half a dozen stretches.  Only when the sky opened up and the rain came did the kids leave us and scamper home.

On another run, on the Southeastern tip of Samar, we were met with a similar reaction from the local kids, who eagerly joined us as we ran through their town.  A charming, ten-year-old girl, Maryelle, quickly decided that I was her friend.  When I asked her where she lived, she pointed to a ramshackle group of huts just across the street, and then grabbed my arm to take us there.  Surrounded by kids, we passed through a tiny alleyway, and on the other end saw mothers and sisters and aunts, most of them smiling at us. “You all live here?” I asked, and the kids eagerly nodded and said they did.

There was a tiny sari-sari store where an older sister worked, and Nate asked if she sold water.  She disappeared for a moment, and when she came back, she was carrying two chilled, plastic bags of water.  There was no sign of bottled water or a filtration system anywhere, and yet we both knew that turning our noses up at this gift was something we couldn’t do.  As the kids showed us how to bite a hole in the corner of the bag and suck on it, we prayed that God would protect our stomachs and not let us get sick.  Then we drank the cold water, stopping only when I accidentally squirted water all over my face, which the kids, of course, thought was hilarious.  So far we’re still okay, so God seems to have answered our prayer.

“You want to run?” I asked the kids in Tagalog when it was time to go. They ran with us back through the town, across a bridge, to the place where the paved road turned to dirt, and Maryelle asked me if we were all going to our house together.  I didn’t know how to answer her; our hotel was far enough away that it would mean a lot more running, and what would we do with all of these kids once we got there?  She asked if we were coming back later, and since we were leaving Samar the next morning, I told her I didn’t know.  When at last we reached the edge of town, with aching hearts, we told the kids we had to go.  Maryelle looked at me mournfully, but at last smiled her beautiful smile and waved goodbye.


  1. jen says:

    Those stories are incredible, Laura. I love the image of 30 Philipino children imitating Nate’s hamstring stretch. Hilarious! And precious Maryelle…So cool to see that your running made those memorable encounters possible.

  2. Jennifer Rolander says:

    What an amazing experience!! Sounds like it was difficult to leave all those giggling and smiling children goodbye. What a treasured memory to bring back home with you.

    Love to you and Nate,
    Jennifer & Raymond

    • freeisaverb says:

      It’s true. And it was made harder by how amazingly cute Filipino kids are. I don’t know what it is about that gorgeous brown skin and beautiful dark eyes, but we’ve commented again and again how Filipino kids might just be the cutest kids in the world.

  3. Billy G. says:

    So what sort of work were you doing in Samar? How far away is it from Manila? And, do you think you’ll ever see any of those kids again?

    BTW, right now it’s 4 degrees w/ wind chill in the Fort…that’s Fahrenheit. Some hot humid weather sounds wonderful.

    • freeisaverb says:

      Hey buddy, great to see you on here! We’re working on a follow-up post about the work side of the trip (research for L’s book/visiting various NGO’s). Samar is way on the other side of the country–a relatively short flight, but a 30-hour roll-on/roll-off bus/ferry ride . . . that is to say, more time and expense than most of the locals could afford.

  4. Debbie Oberg says:

    Great story Laura! Sounds so wonderful with all those kids. Your skill and talent as a runner really broke down walls and created huge memories. Praise God that the water didn’t get to you.
    Merry Christmas. Miss you Dora and Nathan!
    Aunt Debbie

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